Steve Lavin might have his deepest, most talented team since he took over the program. Still, that hasn’t prevented experts from keeping the St. John’s Red Storm at bay as far as their expectations go. To be fair, it is likely a smart move as this version of the Red Storm — while returning a slew of players — is going to look and play different.
Sure, as already mentioned, St. John’s returns a bunch of core players. That doesn’t mean the lineup is going to look exactly the same as last year. It also doesn’t mean that they are going to player a similar brand of basketball. The additions of Max Hooper to help spread the floor, Orlando Sanchez as an all-around talent and Rysheed Jordan as a supposed point guard miracle worker, the Red Storm are going to be a lot less like last season despite everyone’s assumptions.
Obekpa — who is rightly, widely praised for his defense — is going to have to improve his offense. This is a given. However, with the influx of new, talented offensive players, Opekpa’s inability to put the ball in the basket might not be a concern. I mean, between D’Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson, Jordan, Hooper and others, Opekpa not being able to score (except on put-backs) might actually be a good thing — as there might not be enough shots to go around. Opekpa’s inability might actually help the team’s chemistry. With chemistry being, likely, the most important aspect of the Red Storm’s possible success.
Luckily for St. John’s, they will have plenty of time to build some chemistry. With the out of conference schedule not exactly being filled with world-beaters, we can expect Lavin to tinker around with the lineup, set then change roles, all in the hopes that by the time the Big East Conference schedule starts, the Red Storm has a set eight-to-nine man rotation. Which doesn’t even begin to highlight the depth that St. John’s actually has this season — for the first time in years.
The season kicks off on November 2nd with two exhibition games before a tough test against the Wisconsin Badgers. Obviously, coming out of the Wisconsin game will be telling as far as the immediate future goes for the Red Storm. Although, it shouldn’t be the litmus test that we hold against or for the team throughout the regular season. More like a gauge. A way to see how Lavin originally plans to set his lineup. However, there is almost no chance that whatever set of players he uses during that game will actually be the same when January hits.
Sometimes people try to take away too many things from a team’s non-conference success or lack thereof. I warn you, do not do such things with St. John’s. Lavin knows he has talent. He also has some veterans for the first time since his initial season (which resulted in a NCAA Tournament bid). There is no doubt that he is going to use the non-conference schedule to build a lineup, find some chemistry and define roles for his players.
No matter the wins, losses or perceived projection of the program early on — it has nearly no consequence. If you truly want to know what St. John’s will look like for the season, try holding off until they play the Syracuse Orange on the 15th of December in Madison Square Garden. By then, hopefully, Lavin will have everything figured out. More importantly than all of that, however, the players will learn how to play with each other and not just fall into the volume-shooting, iso-basketball that has crippled the Red Storm the last few seasons.
Think about St. John’s like dating a person you just met. You are both putting on your best faces, still playing things close to the vest and are not nearly the complete person that you are presenting to the other. However, over time things start to settle. The person you are dating sees the real you, without makeup or your hair done and they now know all your flaws. St. John’s out of conference schedule is our first few dates. When the Syracuse game is played (still out of conference, but closer to in-conference schedule) all their flaws and strengths will be exposed or at lest starting to come to light. You know, basically the real St. John’s, not the Red Storm we think they are during the non-conference stretch to start the season. Hopefully for St. John’s, in the same way we hope during dating, eventually everything falls into place and they go to bed with an NCAA Tournament bid.
Joseph is the editor of Storm The Paint. That guy, Twitter @JosephNardone